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Keywords:

  • sex work;
  • prostitution;
  • risk;
  • HIV;
  • sexually transmissible diseases;
  • romance

Female sex workers in Western societies report high rates of condom use with clients. However, their continuing low rates of condom use with private partners place some sex workers at increased risk of STDs and HIV. While researchers have focused on the health risks for female sex workers in their private relationships, from the point of view of the women involved, these relationships are a site of more complex struggles. This paper reports findings from a qualitative study of female sex workers and examines the difficulties associated with sustaining a private relationship while engaging in sex work. Sex work practices, in so far as they parody the features of love-making, can profoundly disrupt the special characteristics of intimate sexual relationships. Any intervention designed to promote condom use in the private relationships of female sex workers must engage with the complexity of meanings that are attached to sex work, love and intimacy by these women.